The 12th of February marks “Red Hand Day”, a reminder to the world of the grim reality that children across the world are exposed to unconscionable forms of violence and provides the opportunity to intensify efforts to end the recruitment of children in armed conflict and hostilities.
Considering the difficulties that limit access to conflict-affected areas and the reluctance of victims to report sexual violence for fear of social exclusion, UNICEF stated that there is an absence of reliable data on the number of children currently subjected to extensive forms of exploitation. Nevertheless, according to estimates, there are up to a quarter of a million child soldiers used in fighting, as spies, messengers, cooks or sexual slaves.
For varying reasons such as abduction, coercion, manipulation by armed actors or the need to generate income for their families, children find themselves witnesses, victims and in some cases participants in the violence of wars and conflict.
However, it is important to highlight that no matter the reasons for their involvement, the recruitment and use of children by armed forces still constitutes a grave violation of child rights and international humanitarian law.
The Geneva Institute for Human Rights welcomes the joint statement issued today by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children & Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and the EU High Representative, Joseph Borrell, on the occasion of the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. “Armed forces and armed groups continue to recruit and use children, tearing them away from their families and communities, cruelly stripping away their dignity and destroying their lives and their future. Only a fraction of those released are benefiting from reintegration programmes. Insecurity prevents thousands of children from accessing quality education and health care while schools and hospitals continue to be targeted.”
This year, the commemoration of this day coincides with the 18th anniversary of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Accordingly, the Institute urges States to quickly accede to the Optional Protocol and to adopt legislation that explicitly prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment of children into armed forces or armed groups and their use in hostilities, as well as raising in years the minimum age for the voluntary recruitment of persons into the armed forces to 18.
Moreover, the Institute calls on governments to intensify efforts to tackle severe violations of children's rights and ensure the effective implementation of the provisions enumerated in the Convention on the Rights of Children by taking all appropriate legislative, administrative and other necessary measures to ensure the full realization of the rights contained.
Similarly, the Institute urges States to see to the integration of child rights principles into practice by providing support services to child victims of sexual violence and prevent and punish these heinous abuses of human rights.
The Geneva Institute for Human Rights also calls on organizations and governments to support the work of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, to implement the recommendations of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and to establish support for victims of armed conflict.